Tag Archives: Lucy Wood

Books to Look Out for in April 2018

Cover imageFewer new April titles have snagged my attention than I’d hoped, although there were so many at the beginning of the year that may not be such a bad thing. I’ll start with the Gun Love by Jennifer Clement, author of the impressive Prayers for the Stolen, published in the UK a few years ago. Fourteen-year-old Pearl lives in the front seat of a wrecked car in a Florida trailer park while her mother lives in the back. Under the driver’s seat sits a gun given to Margot by her boyfriend, a regular visitor to the back seat. ‘Gun Love is a hypnotic story of family, community and violence. Told from the perspective of a sharp-eyed teenager, it exposes America’s love affair with firearms and its painful consequences’ say the publishers. I remember circling Prayers for the Stolen for some time, expecting unremitting grimness given that it was about kidnapped girls but it surprised me, and I’m hoping for the same with this one.

Diana Evans’ Ordinary People is set in South London, far from Pearl and Margot’s trailer park. Melissa is sinking after the birth of her baby while Michael fails to remain faithful to her. Further out into the suburbs, Stephanie is happy with Damian and their children until the death of his father seems to pull the carpet from underneath him. ‘Set against the backdrop of Barack Obama’s historic election victory, Ordinary People is an intimate, immersive study of identity and parenthood, sex and grief, friendship and aging, and the fragile architecture of love’ say the publishers enticingly.

Sarah Françoise’s Stories We Tell Ourselves is about another marriage in trouble, or perhaps a whole series of them. Joan and Frank have spent three decades in an unfinished house in the French Alps. Frank is involved in an epistolary affair with his German ex-girlfriend, and Joan is losing patience but it’s Christmas. They’re about to be visited by their three children, all wrestling with their own relationship difficulties. ‘Written with a rare precision and insight, the author explores the thorniness of familial love and its capacity to endure with warmth, wit and disarming honesty’ say the publishers, a promise which if it’s fulfilled could result in an Cover imageentertaining read.

No prizes for guessing the subject matter of Joanna Walsh’s Break.up but what’s interesting is the way in which Walsh approaches her subject, apparently blending fiction with essays on all manner of things according to the blurb. Walsh’s book is rooted in the idea that the internet has resulted in ex-partners becoming near inescapable. After an affair conducted mostly online, her narrator travels across Europe relying purely on chance to shape her journey. ‘From Rome to Budapest, Freud to Foucault, algorithms to nostalgia, this is a stimulating, original work which dismantles what we know of love, and how we make art from it, and finds a new form and language for the way we love now’ say the publishers. Walsh writes both fiction and non-fiction so may well be able to pull off what sounds like an ambitious piece of writing. She’s also the person behind #ReadWoman.

Lucy Wood’s lovely first novel, Weathering, was a 2015 favourite for me. I still haven’t got around to reading her much-praised collection Diving Belles and Other Stories but that hasn’t stopped me lusting after her new one, The Sing of the Shore, comprising stories set in Cornwall. ‘These astonishing, beguiling stories of ghosts and shifting sands, of static caravans and shipwrecked cargo, explore notions of landscape and belonging, permanence and impermanence, and the way places can take hold and never quite let go’ according to the publishers. Weathering was striking for its gorgeous, lyrical writing raising expectations for more of the same.

Cover image I’m ending with Roland Schimmelpfennig’s One Clear Ice-cold January Morning at the Beginning of the 21st Century, one of the lengthiest titles I’ve come across in some time. The lure here is its Berlin backdrop and its translation by Jamie Bulloch whose work I’ve come to admire. A wolf crosses the border from Poland into Germany, making its way to Berlin. Schimmelpfennig’s novel traces the lives of the people whose path the wolf crosses, from the construction worker who photographs it to the woman who burns her mother’s diaries on a Berlin balcony. ‘Those who catch sight of the wolf see their own lives reflected, and find themselves searching for a different path in a cold time. This first novel of Germany’s most celebrated contemporary playwright is written in prose of tremendous power and precision’ say the publishers which sounds very promising.

That’s it for April’s new titles. A click on any title that takes your fancy will lead to a more detailed synopsis. Paperbacks soon…

Paperbacks to Look Out For in January 2016: Part 1

Cover imageJanuary gets off to a stonking start with enough paperbacks to keep you oblivious to the dismal British winter. Pride of place has to go to Kate Atkinson’s fabulous A God in Ruins. By now, anyone who’s interested knows that this is the story of Teddy, brother of Ursula Todd whose many lives were lived in Life After Life. In her author’s note Atkinson says she likes ‘to think of it as a “companion” piece rather than a sequel’ and indeed that’s how it reads. I can’t speak highly enough of this novel. Just as with Life after Life, it’s an absolute mystery to me as to why Atkinson hasn’t swept the literary prize board with these two strikingly original books.

Another novel I would have liked to see at least longlisted for the Baileys, if nothing else, is Lucy Wood’s debut, Weathering. Ada and six-year-old Pepper are renovating her estranged mother’s cottage after she drowned. As Ada sets about putting distance between herself and the rest of the village Pepper becomes fascinated by her grandmother and her new surroundings. Put like that, Weathering sounds like a fairly prosaic tale but what singles it out is the vivid word pictures Wood sketches, often poetic but sometimes pithy and very funny. One of my favourite books of 2015.

One book that did make it on to a shortlist is Sean Michael’s Us Conductors which was already up for the Giller Prize when it was published here in the UK. It’s about, Leon Theremin, a Russian inventor born in 1896, and if that name seems familiar you may have come across the musical instrument he devised. Once heard its strange haunting sound is hard to forget. The bare bones of the novel are based on Theremin’s life but as Michaels is careful to point out at the very beginning ‘This book is mostly inventions’, a nice little pun on Leon’s activities which gives you a flavour of Michaels’ writing. Those inventions are spun out into an absorbing story, beautifully told.Cover image

I’m particularly eager to read the first of the three novels I haven’t reviewed: Lena Andersson’s Wilful Disregard. It’s about a coup de foudre that strikes Ester Nilsson when she meets artist Hugo Rask. She turns her back on her settled life, heedless of what anyone else says or thinks about her uncharacteristic behaviour. ‘A story of the heart written with bracing intellectual vigour’ says Alice Sebold. That title sounds particularly promising, I think.

Elyria in Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing seems to show a similar disregard when she abruptly leaves Manhattan on a one-way flight to New Zealand abandoning her career and loving husband. Elyria hitchhikes her way around the country, regardless of the risk.  ‘Full of mordant humour and uncanny insights, Nobody Is Ever Missing is a startling tale of love, loss, and the dangers encountered in the search for self-knowledge’ say the publishers. Sounds well worth investigating.

Cover imageThis first selection ends with Noah Hawley’s The Punch. Scott spends his time in seedy San Francisco joints when not at his dull job while David is a successful salesman with two families, one on each coast. These two are brought together when their father dies and their mother lets out a long-held secret as they travel across the country to New York. I like the idea of an American road trip and deep dark secrets are always a winner if well-handled. We’ll see.

That’s it for the first batch. If you’d like a fuller synopsis a click on a link will take you to my reviews for the first three titles and to Waterstones website for the others. And if you’d like to catch up with January hardbacks, they’re here and here. More shortly.

Books of the Year 2015: Part 1

Last year I was off the blocks at the very beginning of December with my books of the year posts, barely waiting for the starter’s pistol. This year I’ve managed to restrain myself but I’m still incapable of cutting the number of favourites back to a sensible figure. Consequently I’ll be spreading my choices over four posts, picking them out month by month. Just as it did in 2014, my reading year got off to a very satisfying start, although a little more evenly spread this time. Last year’s first books of the year post saw seven titles crammed into two months; this one has six spread over three.

Cover imageIt begins with Ben Lerner’s 10:04, a smart little piece of meta-fiction which found its way on to the Folio Prize short list the month after I read it. Lerner’s first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, was much talked about on publication – 10:04 is his second and it’s narrated by a writer whose first novel was much talked about on publication. He’s having trouble writing his second for which he’s got a stonking six-figure advance. Half-way through we learn that the narrator’s name is Ben. Your literary pretentiousness alarm may well be ringing loudly but Lerner’s novel is well worth your time: absorbing, amusing and very clever.

Emily Woof’s The Lightning Tree is a much more straightforward kettle of fish: Girl from one side of the tracks – comfy, middle-class, leftie activist parents – meets boy from the other side – council estate, working-class, Thatcherite mum and dad – they fall in love, the girl heads off to India, the boy to Oxford and then we see what happens, following them into their thirties. This kind of structure’s catnip for me – lots of lovely space for character development. Funny and a little eccentric, Woof’s book reminded me of the early Kate Atkinson novels while that structure has a touch of David Nicholls with a hefty dash of sassy wit and political savvy. I’d not got on with Woof’s debut, The Whole Wide Beauty, but this one hit the spot – so much so that I included it in my Baileys Prize wishlist although the judges disagreed.

They didn’t agree with me about my first February choice either even though Lucy Wood’sCover image Weathering is a striking novel right from the get-go. Its synopsis sounds prosaic enough – single mother returns to the village she left years ago, determined to renovate the dilapidated home she’s inherited from her mother, sell up and leave – but what makes Weathering an unalloyed treat is Wood’s gorgeous word pictures and sharp characterisation all wrapped up in an engrossing story.

February also saw the publication of Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days. Most weeks, usually on Wednesdays or Thursdays, Fuller posts a hundred words inspired by a photograph. Sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking, they’re always inventive. She has a knack of making you look at the world in a slightly different way. No surprise, then, that her debut was on my reading list. It’s the story of Peggy whose survivalist father takes his eight-year-old daughter to the Bavarian forest in 1976 where they stay for the next nine years. True to form, it begins with a photograph as the seventeen-year-old Peggy looks back at that summer. Yet another of my Baileys wishes which failed to come true but Fuller’s wonderfully inventive debut did catch the eye of the Desmond Elliot Prize judges and went on to win it.

Two very different novels for March beginning with my first in translation for this year, Signs Preceding the End of the World. Drawing on Western and Mexican myth, Yuri Herrera tells the story of Makina’s journey from one world to another, beginning with the dramatic disappearance of a man, a dog and a car into a sinkhole, and ending with another journey underground. The simplicity of Herrera’s words makes the images which shine out of them all the more vivid. Herrera – and Lisa Dillman through what was obviously a difficult translation process – makes us view our world through the eyes of someone who doesn’t belong, leaving his readers pondering how being ‘other’ might feel. Quite a feat in just over one hundred pages.Cover image

Regular visitors to this blog may have noticed my tendency to bang on about jackets and their importance in snagging readers’ attention. This particular jacket fits its book like a glove. Molly Mc Grann’s The Ladies of the House begins with a middle-aged woman, about to take off on her first holiday abroad, picking up a paper in which the mysterious deaths of three people in north London are reported. She’s never met these three but somehow she’s convinced she’s responsible for their demise. There’s a pleasing dark edge running through this entertaining piece of storytelling and the ending is pure Southern Gothic.

That’s it for the first quarter of 2015. A click on a title will take you to my review. More very shortly, when it’s the turn of the Man Booker judges to let me down not once but three times…

My 2015 Man Booker wish list

Man Booker logo 2015Just before last year’s Man Booker prize winner announcement I wrote a rather disenchanted post about it so you might think that I’ve cast off my world weariness, given the title above. Not entirely, I’m afraid, but I did have to think about it when the lovely people over at Shiny New Books asked if I’d like to contribute a few punts for this year’s longlist. They only wanted two or three, but it got me thinking about other titles that I’d like to see longlisted. I’ve restricted myself to books that I’ve read and like the judges I’ve allowed myself twelve, although they sometimes stretch to thirteen. Theirs will be revealed on Wednesday 29th July but here’s mine – wishes not predictions – in no particular order, with links to my reviews:

Academy Street Cover imageCover image

       Academy Street                            Weathering                      A Spool of Blue Thread

Cover imageOur Souls at NightTender

   The Mountain Can Wait              Our Souls at Night                           Tender

Cover imageThe Lives of Women1004

        A God in Ruins                           The Lives of Women                          10:04

Cover imageCover imageCover image

         Some Luck                            The Lightning Tree               Signs for Lost Children


I’ve been pipped to the post on this by Jackie over at Farm Lane Books whose format I’ve stolen, not for the first time. Interestingly we only overlap on two although if I’d read Anne Enright’s The Green Road I’m pretty sure it would have appeared here. And if you’d like to see which of the above I came up with for the Shinies plus other contributors’ hopes here they are. Let me know which titles you fancy for this year.

My wish list for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015

It’s that time of year again. The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction judges are putting the finishing touches to their longlist, due to be announced shortly. Only novels written by women in English published between April 1st 2014 and March 31st 2015 qualify for the award. It’s the one prize I pay attention to these days so I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to see listed. What follows is entirely subjective, wishes rather than predictions. A few of the titles are a bit out of the way but I’d like to think a sprinkling of them will appear. I’ve followed the same format as last year with thanks to Jackie at Farm Lane Books for coming up with such a simple but striking presentation. I’ve restricted myself to novels that I’ve read and there’s a link to a full review on this blog should you want to know more. So, in alphabetical order here’s my wish list for the 2015 Baileys Prize:

Ridely Road                                       The Miniaturist                     Academy Street

Cover imageCover imageAcademy Street

Mr Mac and Me                         Our Endless  Numbered Days               Friendship

Cover imageCover image      Friendship

Upstairs at the Party                      Black Lake                                 The Lost Child

Cover imageCover imageThe Lost Child

Bodies of Light                          When the Night Comes In  After Me Comes the Flood

Bodies of LightWhen the Night ComesCover image

A God in Every Stone                         Some Luck                     A Spool of Blue Thread

A God in Every StoneCover imageCover image

Weathering                                  The Lightning Tree                 The Heroes’ Welcome

Cover imageCover imageThe Heroes' Welcome

I’m sure there will be omissions and inclusions that some of you feel passionately about. I’ve heard good things about Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau, for instance, which is working its way up to the top of my pile. Do let me know what you think.

Weathering by Lucy Wood: An unalloyed treat

Cover imageI noticed murmurs of anticipation for Lucy Wood’s first novel as far back as last year in my neck of the Twitter woods. People whose opinions I respect seemed to be getting themselves in quite a lather about it. Her short stories certainly met with a great deal of acclaim with comparisons to Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood and A. S. Byatt being chucked around by the likes of the Guardian and The Times. A lot to live up to, then, but although I’d be a little more circumspect in my own comparisons, Weathering is certainly a striking novel right from the get-go.

It opens with the drowning of Pearl, birdwatcher, jewellery repairer and mother to Ada. After the funeral, Ada arrives with her six-year-old daughter, Pepper, to get her mother’s house in order ready to sell, never intending to stay in this isolated, damp-ridden cottage from which she’d made her escape thirteen years ago and never looked back. She slips reluctantly back into village life, making the awkward re-acquaintance of her childhood friend, learning how to cope with the practicalities her mother had taken care of, turning the pub from a dusty old boozer into a place where people reserve tables to eat. Pepper, scattered and a little pugnacious but curious and fascinated with their new surroundings, makes herself at home, picking up her grandmother’s camera and coaxing her old cat back into the house. Pearl looks on as her daughter and granddaughter find their way into a new life, threading her own memories through their stories.

Put like that, Weathering sounds like a fairly prosaic tale with a touch of the supernatural but what singles it out is the vivid word pictures Wood sketches, often poetic but sometimes pithy and very funny: ‘Take a sour git and leave stewing for thirteen years’ perfectly sums up the cantankerous, chiseling Mick who owns the rundown village shop. Wood shifts her narrative perspective from Pepper to Ada to Pearl and back again with ease, capturing Pepper’s six-year-old inquisitiveness and Pearl’s grumpy misanthropy with equal deftness. Ada and Pearl’s sticky relationship is encapsulated adroitly in a remembered exchange of Christmas presents: ‘She bought Ada a purple scarf with beads on that Ada wore for one day. Ada bought her a bright green belt which Pearl wore for two.’ Weather is everywhere as you’d expect from the title – as a metaphor, a backdrop and a thing of beauty not to be tamed. And if you have any worries about that supernatural element have no fear: this is no clunky, heavy-handed ghost story – it’s wonderfully subtle. I understand, now, what all the fuss was about. Weathering is an unalloyed treat: gorgeous language and sharp characterisation all wrapped up in an engrossing story.